The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Emmitt Smith’s place in NFL history was secure long before Oct. 27, 2002. But the moment the Cowboys running back became the league’s career rushing leader, with an 11-yard fourth-quarter run against the Seattle Seahawks, it ensured he would be the man the next generation of running backs would be chasing.
Smith entered the game 93 yards from Walter Payton’s record, and because he expected to finish the job that day he wore a different jersey and shoes in each quarter—that way, there would be enough memorabilia to go around (including the jersey sent to Canton). Cowboys owner Jerry Jones anticipated the moment, too, preparing a banner to be unfurled when Smith crossed Payton’s mark of 16,726 yards. It hung in the rafters alongside the three Super Bowl flags Smith helped the franchise win.
Since the Cowboys drafted Smith in the first round of the 1990 draft, he affected his club in a way few players have: He delivered 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and in 1993 he earned NFL MVP honors, the NFL rushing title and was Super Bowl MVP. The nightcap to his 15-year career, two seasons with the Cardinals, pushed the new career rushing record to 18,355 yards—a mark only greatness can challenge.
— Jenny Vrentas